Machete Maidens Unleashed (Australian Film Festival 2011)

In Machete Maidens Unleashed!, Not Quite Hollywood director Mark Hartley explores another side of the exploitation cinema wave of the 1970s and 80s.  Instead of Ozploitation, Hartley turns his attention to Fillipinosploitation, more specifically the countless sex-n’-violence epics produced in the Marcos-era Phillippines, often under the aegis of Roger Corman’s New World Pictures or Samuel Z. Arkoff’s American International.  Home to a not-inconsiderable local film industry (though prior to the late sixites, virtually none of its films were seen abroad), the favourable exchange rate, experienced (and cheap) crews and exotic locations made the Phillippines a popular place for American producers to churn out their B-grade (and below) opuses.  It also gave rise to some uniquely demented home-grown product, such as the Bionic Boy films (kid martial artist vs firebreathing robot-dragon-thingy), and midget Bond rip-off, For Ur’ Height Only.  If there’s one thing to be said about all of these productions, the folks involved never let things like story, production values, or occupational health and safety get in the way of turning a quick buck…

Machete Maidens Unleashed! is assembled in the same jolly style as Not Quite Hollywood, with colourful graphics, rapid-fire edits and often hilarious clips and interviews.  Among the interviewees are Corman, Joe Dante, Allan Arkush, Jack Hill, John Landis (whose caustic remarks are a highlight), along with exploitation actors Sid Haig, Margaret Markov, Chris Mitchum, Darby Hinton and more.  The local side is less well-represented, with the only contributing Fillipino director being Eddie Romero (of the Blood Island trilogy, and such classics as Black Mama, White Mama and Beyond Atlantis), while the late Cirio H. Santiago (he of TNT Jackson, among others) is represented by archive interviews.  The most colourful of the directors profiled, Bobby A Suarez (of They Call Her Cleopatra Wong and the Bionic Boy films) is the one whose prescence is most missed here.  A flamboyant (if not particularly talented) filmmaker who always got around on set with a loaded handgun in his belt, Suarez passed away just days before Hartley got to interview him.

Though never less than fascinating and entertaining, Machete Maidens Unleashed! suffers from a lack of focus.  Possibly due to a lack of available interviewees from the Fillipino industry, the film feels unbalanced, with most of the anecdotes coming from the American participants.  There are some insights into how the industry operated under the yoke of Ferdinand Marcos’ reigime, but the imbalance of American comments pulls the film into occasionally irrellevant areas, such as the long digression into the production of Apocalypse Now.   Unlike the pristine archive clips used in Not Quite Hollywood, the film excerpts featured here are of mostly poor quality, a combination of shoddy-to-non-existent Fillipino film archiving (in a tropical climate, no less) and a lack of remastered material from the Corman archives.  Despite these problems, Machete Maidens Unleashed sheds a welcome light on a neglected corner of the film industry.

Firecracker in Machete Maidens Unleashed

This review originally appeared as part of our Melbourne International Film Festival 2010 coverage. Machete Maidens Unleashed plays at the Australian Film Festival on 9 March 2011.

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